Malawi Police can use firearms to abate crime -legal activist

While decision by President Mrs. Joyce Banda’s administration to scrap off the “shoot to kill” policy attracted discomfort among most Malawians as is deemed condoning crime, a leading human rights and legal  activist says the policy was total breach of law and should never be condoned.

The controversial shoot-to-kill policy was put in place by the regime of late President Bingu wa Mutharika and according to its proponents it proved decisive in dealing with criminals as evidenced by sharp decrease in crime rate.

However, when president Banda took over, she immediately got rid of the policy describing it as not consistent with the rules of natural justice.

Dzonzi: Police can use necessary force

Ironically, since the policy was withdrawn, the country has witnessed an upsurge in robberies and criminal activities where citizens are being killed and macheted.

Cops still have tools

But commenting on the abandoning of the policy by the government and subsequent breakdown in security, Blantyre-based lawyer and executive director of Justice Link, Justin Dzonzi, told Nyasa Times the security tumble has nothing to do with the shoot-to-kill policy, arguing that the police are allowed by the law to use firearms if necessary, especially when they come under attack.

“To begin with, the shoot-to-kill policy was illegal because it meant that the police were the jury, judge and executioner at the same time. It also short circuited due process of law. Having said that it is worth mentioning that by abandoning the policy it does not mean total disarmament of police, I think it has to be emphasized that the laws of Malawi allow the police to use firearms to overcome resistance when trying to execute an arrest,” stated Dzonzi.

He substantiated his argument by quoting the 1981 version of the police act section 30 which reads: “Any police officer may use fire arms against any person (C1) who by force prevents an attempt to prevent lawful arrest of himself of any person……(C2) Unless such officer has reasonable ground to believe that he or any other person is in danger of grievous bodily harm and that he cannot otherwise effect or prevent such rescue.”

Politics at play

Meanwhile, Dzonzi believes the issue is being sensationalized for political gains.

He said section 20 of the criminal procedure and evidence code, while bemoaning shoot to kill procedure, it actually empowers police to shoot to disable.

The legal activist  added that in a functioning democracy the job of police is not to punish anybody for crime , saying that rests in the hands of the courts to make determination.

On the rising crime incidents, Dzonzi confidently told Nyasa Times that certain criminals are making certain projections about the country’s leadership.

“It is suffice to say that the duty of police is apprehend, detain, investigate and then bring the suspect to court that’s all. The rest is not within their jurisdiction and that is where shoot to kill becomes illegal because it defeats the whole purpose of having the courts. It should also be noted that the country’s constitution actually safeguards the right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

“Yes, there has been a surge in terms of crime, in a way could be related to the directive by the Inspector General but let me put it clear here that certain criminals are regarding the current leadership as being weak but that is a mistake because as I said the police can still shoot to disable in a bid to abate crime that is legally allowed,” added Dzonzi who has over the years established himself as one of prominent advocates for human rights.

Concerns to be addressed

Loti Dzonzi, the new Inspector-General of Police (not related to the activist) , told a news conference in Blantyre that such fear amongst police  that they may be shot at by armed criminals was baseless because the shoot-to-kill policy was never a protective measure for the police to begin with.

He said Cops  should should persuade authorities to provide them with “bulletproof vests and not to allow them to shoot to kill before somebody has been given the opportunity to prove their innocence.”

In her speech on July 6, at an event marking 48 years of Malawi’s independence from the British rule, Banda addressed concerns and said that her government has drawn up vigorous measures to counter the recent crime spree.

She said her administration  is going to be “very serious in handling issues of breakdown of law and order or indeed issues of the perpetration of criminal offences in this country.”

Banda sais her government is “seriously looking into the issue of the proliferation of armed robberies which is being noticed in our urban centres.”

The President said the state know “those people who are behind the spate of lawlessness in the country and I am assuring you that we will deal with them.”


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